For the Browns’ defense, “next man up” goes beyond filling the void left by Myles Garrett. That’s the way it’s been all season.
Cleveland will be without Garrett for the rest of the season pending an appeal. That’s been, by far, the most publicized blow to the Browns’ defense. The unit will also be without veteran safety Morgan Burnett, who was in the midst of his best game as a Browns before injuring his Achilles. And for Sunday’s challenge against Miami, Cleveland won’t have defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who is suspended one game for his role in last week’s altercation with the Steelers.
This is nothing new for a defense that’s dealt with injuries and other maladies since the start of the season. It will just hit a new level Sunday, when the Browns could have just five of the 11 players they started on defense to open the season.
Since Week 3, when the Browns were without their entire starting secondary, the Browns have had a maximum of nine players available from that opening 11.
“Other guys have to step up,” Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said Thursday. “They are not canceling the season. We got to find a way to compensate for these losses and we will find a way to get it done."
Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Dolphins Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey
The biggest losses, understandably, will be felt up front on a defensive line that was built to be a top strength for not only Cleveland’s defense, but also the entire team as a whole. If Olivier Vernon misses a third straight game because of a knee injury, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson will be the lone, every-game starter available.
Chad Thomas has already been filling in for Vernon and is expected to maintain that workload the remainder of the season. Chris Smith will see an increase in what has been a rotational role this season. On the inside, Devaroe Lawrence is expected to see the biggest jump in responsibilities for this particular week with Ogunjobi sidelined.
"I go into this week expecting the best that they have. I think if we get that, that is a bonus for us,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. “We need to play well. Everybody up there needs to play well. They would not be on this team if we did not have confidence in them to do that. I expect them to play well. They expect it out of themselves."
Richardson admitted it’s felt different in his position room without Garrett and Ogunjobi but provided a no-nonsense, no-excuse answer about the situation.
“[There’s] no slacking in or D-line room from nobody,” Richardson said. “We do not go for that at all. If you are the starter or not, you are a starter now.”
That’s likely the case for Juston Burris at the back end of Cleveland’s defense now that Burnett is lost for the year.
Cut before the start of the season, Burris rejoined the team Week 3 as a waiver claim. Less than 48 hours after returning to Cleveland, Burris played a significant role and has seen consistent playing time ever since.
Now, Burris and rookie Sheldrick Redwine will be counted on at a safety position that featured two players -- Burnett and the recently waived Jermaine Whitehead -- who are no longer available.
The opportunity won’t be anything new for both Burris or the Browns defense as a whole.
"I really do not think that there is going to be any surprises. I think we moved on. I think the guys are prepared and ready for Miami,” Wilks said. “I’ll tell you one thing, Miami is not feeling sorry for us. They are coming in here trying to get a win. As I said before, these guys are well-coached, very disciplined and we are going to have to play the same.
“I think our guys are ready to step up and accept the challenge. Guys are out. We have been there before.”